The power of a well-structured Romance novel is impressive. You know the ones - they ramp up your tension, get your heart racing and your toes curling, and give you something like a crash when you're done reading. People lose their damn minds over a book with just the right amount of burn to it.
I must provide one caveat, however. We're all Goldilocks. The "right" burn level is totally subjective, and a lot of factors impact our preferences when it comes to the heat levels we prefer in a Romance.
Some people love to be whisked up in a veritable whirlwind of passion right from the start, while others like that romantic tension to coil up inside of them so tight it's almost painful when it finally releases itself at the end of the story.
Others, myself included, land somewhere in the middle. A burst of tension here, a stormy scene there...we like our hot and bothered moments to happen at a mixed pace. As both a writer and a reader, Slow, medium, and fast-burn Romance preferences have become as standard as having a favorite food, and as both a reader and a writer I find these "genres within the sub-genres" fascinating.
Let's explore the ins and outs of each, shall we?
I Want A Man With A Slow...Plot.
Those who prefer slow-burn Romances are, to my chaotic mind, practically masochists. Reading a slow-burn is like exquisite torture when the writer has done their job and, apparently, there are a lot of people who like to be tortured.
Break out the chains, right? Just kidding. Fifty Shades was about as slow as a runaway train by these reader's standards.
Even within this most smoldering of burn levels, there are sub-levels. Slow can mean anything from "they won't even kiss until book 3" to "the REALLY kinky sex happens at the very end of the book!" It depends on the author and sub-genre, really.
The point of a slow burn is usually exploration and investment. The author is twisting you up tight in the characters' story, getting you well and truly snared in the emotions they're trying to evoke as the hero and/or heroine undergo their crucibles.
You may also find a great deal of touch-and-go to the characters' relationships in these stories. It's all about that tension, I say for the tenth time in 500 words. That tension is what sucks readers in, turning them voracious by the time they smell blood in the water. These writers will have you panting the first time the protagonists' hands brush on page 255.
It's a skill, truly.
If you enjoy the sweet torment of a climax long-awaited (pun absolutely intended), slow-burns are the books for you. Thanks to the magic of indie book culture, the burn level is usually mentioned in either the description or reviews of any Romance you can find online.
Self-published stories are more likely to sport these labels from the get-go, but either way, you can usually figure it out by reading the blurb or checking out the sample pages.
Not Too Hot, And Not Too Cold - The Elusive "Medium-Burn" Romance.
This subcategory isn't as easily defined as the slow or quick-burn ones, but it's actually pretty common. I would venture to say that most readers seem to prefer a medium heat level in their Romances.
Medium-burn stories are usually structured around a number of mini-climaxes in the plot (look, that's the official word for the crescendo. Deal with it). This is as opposed to one huge, central sex or love scene as the foundation of the entire story - it's like a building with one central spire versus an ornate cathedral with many.
Perhaps religious metaphors aren't as well-suited to this topic, but whatever.
The challenge of medium-heat Romance novels is mostly faced by new writers, who have to find the "correct" speed to suit their target readers' wants. After you've got a few books out, the pacing becomes fairly intuitive. Readers, you certainly aren't shy about sharing your opinions, and these are the lenses through which authors can map their books' heat.
A good medium-burn Romance will strike the balance between pushing and pulling without sacrificing overall pace. The protagonists' will have lots of "scenes" or moments of getting closer, but they'll likely face plenty of challenges to that closeness, too.
Medium-burn is common in the Fantasy Romance genres, where plot tension fits in nicely to the need for numerous character interactions and differing results from each of them. Conflicting emotions in one or both main characters' is also a common element in the medium-burn category, as it balances out the potential for love and keeps things moving without flying too fast.
Tension is a huge part of any Romance, but medium-burns rely on particular skill at weaving that tension into the plot and character arcs. Different authors do this in their own ways, and readers can get a feel for that style by relying on reviews and sample chapters.
You won't find much in the way of medium-burns in either the Erotica or Religious Romance categories, because these tend toward extremes. An Amish quick-burn or medium-burn Romance would be both extremely unusual and, I daresay, quite out-of-place.
I'd still read it, though.
Explosive Liaisons: The Quick-Burn Romance Novel.
Some readers are simply not patient. They don't have the time to twist and turn through a whole plethora of character wishy-washiness before finally seeing them get together.
"It's my Romance and I want it now, dammit!"
I respect that, actually. From this fast-paced sentiment, the quick-burn category was born. These books are usually shorter than the others, and they're either standalone novels or they belong to a series in which each book has new (though somehow related) main characters.
Quick-burns may be labeled with terms like "instalove," and the "fated mates" category of Romance also includes a fair number of them. These quick-and-usually-dirty stories feature a lot of love at first sight or claimed by the alpha type tropes.
Readers who prefer this heat level want to dive straight into the flames and immediately get caught up in the steamy, whirlwind passion of the two (or more) protagonists. They don't feel like waiting around for the action to build, they want to launch themselves headfirst into it with nary a moment to breathe.
Writing quick or fast-burn Romances can be a lot of fun for authors, and there's certainly a huge market for them. They work well as novellas or shorter books since it tends to be challenging to keep the plot at full speed for too long. The Erotica and Romantic Suspense categories often include plenty of quick-burns, and they've grown more popular in the Paranormal Romance genre as well.
These books have brought a new meaning to the word "quickie." I'm here for it, personally. Get those pages blazing, I say!
Feel The Burn (However You Want To)!
Whatever your preferences as a reader or writer of Romance are, knowing about "burn levels" is useful when you're navigating the crowded genres and subgenres of the wider niche. To sum things up, the burn level of a book is all about pacing, tension, and climaxes (...).
It can be fun to mix up your approach throughout your career if you're a writer, but make sure to prominently label the heat level in your book blurbs if you want to avoid pissed-off readers. Readers, you can usually rely on a specific author favoring one burn level. It's kind of an inherent thing, in my experience.
As the Romance genre continues to grow and widen, I'm sure new and wonderful heat categories will make themselves known. Perhaps we will see the trends shift as certain categories become more popular and others less so - I can't help but wonder how the pace of modern life will impact these trends.
For now, there are plenty of options for any preference, so get out there and explore yours! Oh, and please leave some reviews to guide the rest of us wandering the flaming Romance wilderness, if you don't mind...